The heralded excellence of the nation’s oldest public historically black land-grant institution was celebrated during a monumental occasion.
Alcorn State University’s faithful community gathered to celebrate the institution’s Sesquicentennial Founders’ Day Convocation Thursday, Sept. 23, in the historic Oakland Memorial Chapel. Iconic Alcornites from throughout the years were recognized, keeping up with the program’s theme, “Dare to Celebrate Our Legacy.”
Perspectives from older and younger Alcornites were given during the program. Dr. Malvin Williams Sr. ’62, former interim president of Alcorn from 2006 to 2007, gave a speech of reflection. Prior to his tenure as interim president, Williams served 29 years as a chief academic officer (vice president for academic affairs) at Alcorn. He also served as a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, registrar, and interim director of athletics. Williams also attended grade school at Alcorn.
He provided the audience with a glimpse of Alcorn during his time and the significant milestones it has reached over the years.
“In 1871, Alcorn had three branches of study that included mathematics, language arts, and miscellaneous studies,” said Williams. “The campus was composed of seven brick buildings, including the chapel, the old president’s home, and Belle Lettres. These are 1830s buildings. Today, there are close to 800 faculty and staff, more than 3,000 students, and five schools on three campuses. Academic programs continued to expand over the years from the initial three programs. In 1978, Alcorn applied to the IHL board for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to be held on the Lorman campus. This application was led by the late Norris Edney, who was the dean of Arts and Sciences. The board approved the program and located it in Natchez. As part of this approval, the board transferred the Associate of Science in Nursing program to Alcorn.”
Williams also reflected on past leaders and how their teamwork made overcoming challenges much easier.
“Dr. Walter Washington, then president of Alcorn, gave a challenge to Academic Affairs to obtain accreditation for all programs that could obtain recognition. Although challenging, when you are surrounded by good people, it makes challenges easier. Being surrounded by the late Dr. Josephine Posey, Norris Edney, Alpha Morris, Polly Ann White, Emmanuel Barnes, and many more made life easier. Stability helps [institutions].”
As Alcorn looks to the future, Williams encourages University leaders to innovate and strive to provide even more excellent opportunities that would allow Alcorn to uphold its reputation as a premier institution.
“As we celebrate 150 years, it has to be about more than past and present perspectives. It must be about a time when the University examines itself to ensure that the next 150 years are guaranteed. As we prepare for the future, we must emphasize research, especially in agricultural sciences, human and social sciences, health sciences, nursing, and technology. Claiborne County, southwest Mississippi, the state, and the nation — are better off because Alcorn stood the test of time.”
Fallon Echols, a freshman biological sciences major from Southaven, Mississippi, and fifth-generation Alcornite spoke about witnessing Alcornites in her family create pathways of success for students at the University. She’s looking forward to carrying on the torch as the newest Alcornite in her family.
“For 150 years, Alcorn has provided sound instruction and a path to success,” said Echols. “I know this to be true because I have witnessed the actions and willingness of my family to help others. I have also been receiving that help, so my path to success has been a little easier. I am currently one of the recipients of Alcorn’s Legacy Scholarship Program, which was initiated by President Felecia M. Nave. Even though my journey has just begun, I am excited, and I can see the possibilities Alcorn has to offer.”
Staying with the theme of celebrating legacies, two families with deep Alcorn roots were recognized during the ceremony. Johnny Williams, a senior sports management major who introduced the Jackson family, and Camry Gipson, a sophomore elementary education major who introduced the Johnson family, gave brief histories of the family's ties to the University.
“The Jackson family legacy at Alcorn started with the matriarch, Ms. Gertrude Dunbar Whitting, who was employed at Alcorn A&M College and received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1959,” said Williams. “Mrs. Whitting’s four children, Mary, Alpha, Leroy, and Clyde, attended Alcorn as well. Mrs. Whitting’s daughter, Mary Lee Dunbar, was an authentic product of the University. After high school, Mary Dunbar left Lorman and married Walter Jackson of Tallulah, Louisiana. She returned to Alcorn 15 years later in the fall semester of 1962 to pursue a degree in elementary education. She graduated in the summer of 1964 and mothered her 13th child upon returning home from college. She served as an educator in the Madison Parish School System. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson believed in training up a child in the Lord. As a result of their faith, all 13 of their children received bachelor’s degrees from Alcorn.”
“Jacob Johnson, a noted landowner and local justice of the peace, knew that education was of great value for the success of his offspring after the Civil War and during Reconstruction,” said Gipson. “Therefore, Jacob sent his three sons, Henry, Row, and Isaac, to Alcorn A&M College to receive their education. Robert Johnson Sr., the son of Henry and grandson of Jacob, survived the Spanish Flu of 1918 and married Ella Lorain Marshall. To this union, 14 children were born. This family emphasized education at home and in the church community. Reading, spelling, and math sessions before bedtime were the norm in the household. Thirteen of the fourteen children attended Alcorn A&M College, where they received bachelor’s degrees. The Johnson family is recognized nationally for this effort. The April 1985 edition of Ebony Magazine carried the story of Henry Johnson’s family and how he vowed to educate his children and the family history with Alcorn. The Johnson family also has the distinction of being recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the family that holds the record for the most members to attend the same university.”
Alcorn’s President Felecia M. Nave felt honored to be among the Alcorn community to celebrate such a historic occasion.
“It's a privilege to come together to pay homage to a place that means so much to so many, and we will preserve this place so that it will mean so much to so many who come after us,” said Nave. “For 150 years, Alcorn has established a strong tradition and legacy in producing exceptional leaders that are well placed around the world. Alcorn continues to be strong and thrives financially, it continues to grow its academic profile, and be noticed as a top institution in this world.”